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Chapter 14 : Dark and Angry Souls
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If the title of this chapter sounds a bit darker, well, that's no coincidence.
As always, the characters herein belong to JK Rowling.
Ron was always the first to admit that he wasn’t very good at pretending to be a muggle. Having grown up in a wizarding family, and a pure-blooded one at that, he found their social norms very strange. Their technology also baffled him, and unlike his father he had no great desire to understand it better. Forty years of marriage to a muggle born witch had improved his skills, but mostly in areas he found enjoyable, like driving a car. His wife and children all considered him hopeless, and he had long since made his peace with that.
With a sense of trepidation, Ron donned a jacket and tie and made his way into the headquarters of the muggle police in London. The place was a cacophony of flashing indicators, beeping signals and muggles hurrying to and fro as they chattered on their mobile phones. Three times he was almost bowled over as he slowly made his way to the records office, carefully following the directions on the placards that adorned the walls wherever he found a stairwell or a lift or an intersection of two long hallways. He silently wondered whether any of the muggles who seemed so irritated by his ambling pace would fare any better in the labyrinthine corridors of the Ministry of Magic.
He both pitied and envied his best friend. Harry had planned to be the one sneaking into the police offices, but the Minister had summoned him to a meeting. Ron guessed that it was another dog and pony show, allowing the Minister to announce to the press that he was working closely with Magical Law Enforcement to solve the mystery of the New Blood Order. In light of the tension between the progressives and the old pure blood families, the Minister was eager to create the perception that he was doing something. In reality, he was wasting the Aurors’ most valuable resource.
Ron arrived at the records office and waited to be helped by one of the clerks who stood behind the counter. When he reached the front of the queue, he smiled and flashed the false credentials that the Auror office used for impersonating muggle law enforcement.
“Detective Inspector Hollandsworth,” Ron introduced himself. “I need to review two case files from murders that occurred around four years ago. The victims’ names were Ginevra Potter and Edwin Stoops.”
The lady across the counter stared at him for a second, then answered huffily, “If the cases have been closed then those records are in the digital archives. There are workstations along that wall where you can search for them.”
Ron stared nervously at a row of computer terminals sitting on a long table. He counted muggle computers among his greatest nemeses. The bloody things never seemed to understand what he was trying to do, and his attempts to operate them were humbling under the best of circumstances. To make matters worse, these definitely weren’t magically shielded. He could almost smell Rose’s first laptop computer smoldering in the kitchen sink while his wife and daughter took turns slapping him with pot holders. It was too depressing to think about.
“Um, Vanessa,” he began, noting the staffer’s ID badge, “I’m a bit of an old codger when it comes to these newfangled computers. Too many years working in the field. Do you think that you could help me look these up?” He gave her his best pleading smile.
The clerk’s annoyance seemed to go up another notch. “It’s really quite simple,” she said, her voice dripping with condescension. “You just log on with your badge number, enter the name in the search screen, and the file comes up.”
Ron’s nerves rose to match her pique. He wasn’t even sure he had a badge number. He hadn’t paid any more attention to the forged credentials than was required to memorize the name and make his picture stop grinning and waving.
“Vanessa,” he said, trying to keep his voice from shaking, “I am in the middle of an urgent investigation and I don’t really have the time to fiddle with these bloody computers. Now could you please help me?”
“You and everybody else,” she replied blithely. “Now I’m afraid I’ll need you to move along, you’re holding up the queue.”
Confundo. Ron flicked his wand inside his pocket and Vanessa’s eyes suddenly lost their focus. “If you’ll please join me at the terminal over here,” he said pleasantly and loudly enough to be heard by the people lined up behind him, “I’m sure this will only take a minute.”
Vanessa placed a “Next Window, Please” sign on the counter in front of her stool and slowly made her way around to the computer terminal where Ron was waiting.
“Sorry about this,” he said quietly, “but I really am in a hurry. Now, we’re looking for two murders. The names of the victims are Ginevra Potter and Edwin Stoops.”
Vanessa obediently typed the names into the computer terminal. Each brought up a manifest of documents.
“Send them to that beige box in the corner that spits out paper,” Ron directed, and a nearby printer came to life. He looked over her shoulder, scanning the list of documents in the Stoops file. Several of them had little red crosses on the screen next to the name. “What do those red marks mean?” he asked.
“Those documents weren’t found in the database,” she replied mechanically, sounding dazed.
“Weren’t found? What happened to them?”
“Sometimes the originals don’t get scanned, or something happens to the images.”
Ron sighed. “Alright, then. Do the originals still exist?”
“Originals are destroyed after the files are digitized.”
“Bloody hell,” Ron cursed under his breath. This didn’t seem at all like a coincidence. Somebody had beaten them to the mark again.
A few minutes later, he gathered a stack of paper from the printer and walked back to where Vanessa sat in front of the computer terminal with a vacant look on her face. “You’ve been a huge help. Now remember, you had a very nice coffee break,” he whispered to her. “Return to your place at the counter.” He turned and left the office while Vanessa shook her head and struggled to recall why she was sitting at a terminal while irritated visitors queued up in front of her station.
Hermione took another handful of popcorn out of the bowl next to her and turned the page of the thick spell book in her lap. The old parchment crackled slightly as it settled into place. She thought that the book smelled vaguely of death and decay, although it could have been her imagination reacting to the hideous spells it contained. She quietly munched on the popcorn while reading about a technique to distill a lethal poison from the blood of an Inferius. Sometimes it amazed her that she could read such things and eat at the same time.
Across the room, Terry Boot screwed up his face and pushed the book on his lap farther away. “Merlin’s bloody hat! I just read about a curse that pulls your liver out through your belly button. Who the hell dreams up stuff like this?”
“That’s Horrifying Hexes and Cataclysmic Curses, right?” Susan asked from Harry’s writing desk. “Wait until you find out what you’re supposed to brew with the bile.”
Terry made an even worse face, but continued to read in morbid fascination. Hermione, Susan, Terry and Ernie had gathered in Harry’s study to spend an evening poring over the dark magic spell books that Harry had borrowed from the Minister’s library plus a few others that Neville had loaned them from Hogwarts. Hermione would have preferred to convene at her own home, avoiding the touchy subject of moving from place to place, but it seemed inappropriate enough that Harry had taken the books out of the Ministry. Rather than drag them around from house to house, she had agreed to have Susan levitate her armchair through the floo to Harry’s house.
Hermys added to the awkwardness by fussing over her to an embarrassing extent. It seemed that every time she looked up from her reading he was standing there, asking whether she needed anything. She was surrounded by comfortable pillows and her glass never seemed to get less than three quarters full before it magically refilled. Far from helping, Terry and Ernie kept cracking bad puns involving the word “spew”. As far as she was concerned, there was nothing remotely funny about watching a sentient creature labor in servitude, no matter how much he professed to enjoy it.
Their reading continued, interrupted by an occasional discussion of some ghastly bit of dark magic or Hermys appearing with another tray of snacks. After a couple of hours, Terry snapped Ancient Secrets of the Dark Wizards of Wales closed and rubbed his weary eyes. “Another one down and no mention of this blood curse,” he said wryly. “Who knew there were so many dark spells?”
“Dark magic is just a manifestation of the darkness of the human soul,” Susan said without looking up. “I attended a lecture at Durmstrang where the presenter explained that the only limit on the terrible things that magic can do is the evil in the heart of the person casting the spell. It’s scary to imagine the evil that came up with some of this stuff.”
“Coming from a muggle family, it’s still hard for me to understand,” Hermione observed. “I mean, you receive this amazing gift, this incredible power, and for some people it’s still not enough. They have to keep pushing the boundaries, beyond all the limits of reason and decency. I don’t know what possesses them.”
“I suppose it is easier to take it all for granted when you come from a wizarding family,” Susan agreed. “Although muggles certainly aren’t immune to bloodlust. First it was gunpowder, then atomic bombs, then chemical weapons, biological weapons, death rays... it never ends.”
Hermione smirked at the mention of death rays. Apparently even intelligent, rational Hufflepuffs weren’t immune to falling for a small measure of Xerxes the Seer’s routine. She let it go, and said, “It’s ironic, though, that the darkest wizard of all time grew up among muggles. Tom Riddle never knew what he was until his letter from Hogwarts came. He received the same gift as Harry and I and he still turned out evil. I don’t think I’ll ever understand.”
“He was a bloody lunatic,” Terry replied. “Isn’t that enough of an explanation?”
Everyone seemed to agree that Terry’s explanation would suffice, and went back to their reading. After another half hour, Ernie finished Evil Spells of the Dark Ages and returned it to the pile on Harry’s desk. As he prepared to pick up another book, he noticed the small roll of parchment next to the pile. Opening it, he realized that it was the catalog of dark magic spell books from the Minister’s library.
“I still don’t get why these were in the Minister’s office,” he mused. “The restricted section of our office or the Auror office would have made a lot more sense.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Susan replied. “It seems like a lot of things wind up under lock and key in there since the new Minister took office.”
Ernie frowned slightly and held the parchment in front of Susan. “What do you make of this?” he asked, gesturing with his finger. The names of the spell books were neatly spaced on the page except for a single gap about two thirds of the way down.
Susan furrowed her brow and took the list from Ernie. “It’s like there’s one missing,” she agreed. Taking out her wand, she pointed it at the gap. “Specialis Revelio.” For a fraction of a second, a faint pattern appeared on the parchment before disappearing again. She looked at Ernie, who returned her look with urgent inquisitiveness.
“I think it’s a strong, self-reapplying concealment charm,” Susan said as Terry rose to join them and Hermione looked intently from her chair. Susan waved her wand over the page, trying to unravel the magical protections concealing the hidden writing. Several times, the symbols started to appear only to fade away again.
“Runes,” Terry observed. “I can tell that much but I can’t get a good look at them before they disappear.”
Susan carried the paper to Hermione’s chair and set it on the spell book in her lap. “Want to see what you can do with it?” she asked.
Hermione tried a variety of revealing charms, reversal spells and curse breaking enchantments. Each time, the symbols appeared for a fraction of a second before the stubborn concealment charm reapplied itself.
“We could get Ron’s brother Bill to take a look at it,” Hermione sighed. “After fifty years, there isn’t much he hasn’t seen. But he’s traveling in the Middle East and he’s not due back for several days.”
“If we could just slow it down,” Susan thought out loud. “Stop the charm from recasting itself just long enough to pick out some of the runes.”
Hermione stared hard at the sheet of parchment. Each time they made the writing visible, the spell made it invisible again. Was there a way they could make that work for them?
“I have an idea,” Hermione said. She held the parchment in front of her. “Geminio. Just in case this doesn’t work.”
She handed Ernie the original document and unrolled the copy on the book in front of her. “Terry, can you bring me an inkpot and quill from Harry’s desk?” She took the quill and dipped it in ink, then made a pattern of closely spaced, cross-hatched lines over the blank section containing the concealed runes.
“Cross your fingers,” she said, then pointed her wand at the parchment. “Specialis Revelio.” Once again, the runes briefly appeared behind her pattern. But when they disappeared, the ink Hermione had added to the page disappeared along with them, leaving a distinct negative image of the writing.
“Blimey,” Terry mumbled, “genius.”
“What does it say?” Susan asked. “I’m sure Professor Babbling would be disappointed, but I don’t remember a thing about runes.”
Hernione furrowed her brow and stared at the symbols. Some of them were familiar to her, but several were completely alien. “Well, this one means ‘journey’ I believe,” she said, pointing the the first symbol. “This one has something to do with water, or perhaps the ocean. This one usually connotes nighttime. And this last one represents the spirit of a person, I think.”
“Or the soul.” The four of them turned in surprise to see Dumbledore’s portrait staring at them. Hermione could not recall the portrait ever speaking to anyone other than Harry.
“Excuse me, professor?” she replied.
“I believe the book in question is called Journey into the Depths of a Dark and Angry Soul,” Dumbledore replied, looking troubled.
“Do you know it?” Hermione asked.
“I know of it,” Dumbledore answered. “It was among the books I removed from Hogwarts and placed in the care of the Ministry. It’s not so much a spell book as a memoir. It was written by a dark wizard known as Herodonthus the Imperious. It is said that he placed an entire legion of muggle soldiers under a curse that allowed him to control them like puppets while making them all but invulnerable. As the story goes, he marched his army towards London in the year thirteen hundred and forty-eight, intending to overthrow the Wizard’s Council and install himself as supreme ruler of the British Isles.
“The council dispatched two dozen of the most powerful wizards at its disposal to defeat him,” Dumbledore continued. “The ensuing battle lasted a fortnight and led to the deaths of all but two of the wizard champions and nearly sixteen hundred muggle soldiers. Herodonthus was confined to a cavern beneath the Isle of Man, surrounded by deadly wards and deprived of all contact with the outside world. In spite of the conditions of his imprisonment, he was able to write the volume in question. It was found near his remains when the cavern was unsealed after his death.”
“Is the Imperius curse is named after him?” Susan inquired.
“Whether the wizard came before the curse or the other way around has been the subject of some debate,” Dumbledore replied. “I don’t know that it matters. The book in question is quite cryptic. Most scholars who are familiar with it have written it off as the ravings of a madman. It’s also possible that many dark secrets are contained within its pages, if someone were patient and clever enough to understand them.”
“And we’re sure that Harry didn’t just leave the book in the Minister’s office because it wasn’t on the list or because it was written in runes?” Ernie asked.
“He said that he took every book that was on the dark magic shelf,” Hermione replied. Her mind was racing. For the first time since she learned about her paralysis, there was a hope that she might understand how she had been injured. And how she might heal herself.
“I think the next step is to check in with Harry and Ron,” Susan said. “They’ll probably have some ideas on how to go about finding out what happened to this book.”
“Very well,” replied Hermione, closing the spell book in her lap. “They’re due home any time now. Um, Susan, would you be kind enough to help me to the loo? Hermys kept sneaking in here and refilling my water glass. I think I’m about to burst.”
Scorpius interrupted his silent contemplation of the Quidditch World Cup rankings to sample a few moments of the diatribe his wife was still directing towards him. He had mostly perfected his technique for looking like he was following her every word while his mind wandered, but it was important to tune back in at the first sign that she was losing steam. Failing to make the switch from good listener to apologetic husband at the right moment could easily precipitate a whole new tirade. Sometimes he marveled at his ability to stay married to the mystifying creature shouting at him from across the kitchen.
“So if your father thinks that we’re going to leave my mum behind and go sneaking off on a ski trip then his bloody head is so far up his arse that he ought to feel his heart beating on his bald spot,” Rose yelled before pausing to catch her breath.
Seeing his opportunity, Scorpius quickly moved to pull her into an embrace. “You’re right, of course,” he said soothingly. “I told father that we couldn’t leave with your mum in the shape that she’s in. But I wanted you to have the opportunity to consider his offer, even if it just meant sending Octavia for a few days.”
Mentioning their daughter seemed like a good move. It wouldn’t sound like he was giving up too easily, but it also didn’t imply that Rose should consider leaving her mother. With a bit of luck, it would rile her up just enough to work out the last of her animosity. He felt pleased with himself. Once the matter was amicably resolved, he felt quite sure that there was some high quality make-up sex in his future.
“I don’t know. Should we?” she replied quietly.
The reassuring smile disappeared from Scorpius’s face. Of all the things he had guessed she might say, this wasn’t anywhere on the list. It didn’t even include profanity. “Are you messing with me?” he blurted out, unable to come up with anything more sensible to say.
“Of course I’m not messing with you,” she snorted, pulling away from him and punching him in the arm. After glaring at him for a few moments, she found her way back into his arms. “I’m just worried. Lil and Dom and I were talking the other night and something just isn’t right. Mum was almost killed. Dad is about to lose the plot. Uncle Harry is a mess. And now even your dad’s acting barmy.”
She snuggled a little closer into his warm embrace. This was a side of Rose that very few people ever got to see. “Honey, I’m scared,” she whispered. “I worry about Aiden, but he’s safe at Hogwarts and he’s practically an adult. Octavia’s our baby. I don’t know what to do.”
“We’ll protect her,” he replied, a little surprised by the resolve in his own voice. “We’ll do whatever we have to do to keep her safe. But right now, I don’t know whether Switzerland is the place to do that. It’s not like Father to go running off like this. It makes me wonder...”
He paused, searching for the right words. “You don’t think your father is involved in this, do you?” Rose gasped softly.
“No,” he replied. “At least not directly. Father says that those days are behind him and he means it. Mother would never tolerate it. But that doesn’t mean that other people aren’t trying to drag him back in. Those men who escaped from Azkaban, most of them are schoolmates of his. They attacked the manor and tried to kill him, probably because they’re angry with him for turning his back on them.”
He looked into her eyes, willing the fear and anxiety away. “As far as your mum and dad and Harry are concerned, they are going through a rough spell. But they’ve been through much worse. And they’ve never let us down when it matters. Given a choice, I’ll put my faith in them. If Harry says to send Octavia to safety then I’ll do it without hesitation, but Al talked to him on Sunday and he said that it isn’t necessary. That will do for me.”
“You really mean that, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do,” he replied into the warmth of her hair. “I know that Harry is human. He can’t protect everyone, everywhere, all the time. But I also know that he’ll never stop trying. If I have to put Octavia’s safety in anyone else’s hands, I can’t think of someone I trust more.”
“Alright,” she answered quietly, still looking for reassurance in his steely grey eyes. A small smile crossed her lips. “But you’d better not be wrong about this. I’ll hex your arse into next week.”
“What is it with you Weasley women and hexing everybody?” he asked, wrapping his arms around her back and lifting her off of her feet so that they were face to face.
“It just comes easier to us than talking,” she grinned. “Besides, a good hex is worth a thousand words.”
“And you can’t say most of those words in polite company anyway,” he snickered.
“Polite company is overrated,” she answered, closing her eyes and brushing her lips against his. “Company in general. Let’s skive off to the bedroom and see if we can’t avoid it entirely for a while.”
“Sounds good to me,” he replied gamely as she began to kiss his neck. She wrapped her legs around his waist and he maneuvered them towards the hallway. As his capacity for reason gradually slipped away, he reckoned that he must be doing something right, although Merlin only knew what it was.
Jeremy Gamp sat on a bar stool in a quiet muggle pub in the Welsh town of Denbigh, nursing a vodka and tonic and occasionally glancing towards a boarding house across the way. He’d barely gotten up for the past two days, rising only when he needed to visit the head or when the barman announced that it was closing time. The monotony didn’t bother him much. He’d gotten used to it during the years in Azkaban. Knowing that he could stand up and leave whenever he wished was all the comfort he needed.
He pondered his drink for a moment before downing the last of it. Muggle spirits were new to him, but he liked them. The heavily alcoholic drinks helped to slow down the thoughts that popped erratically in and out of his mind like sparks. He settled on a particularly enjoyable image of the young female Auror running away from Malfoy’s house as his burning curse struck her in the backside. He recalled how her robes burst into flames and savored the memory of her cry of pain. His time with her had been far too short, but if this Tenabra lady was to be believed, he would probably have another chance once they were in control of the Ministry.
He motioned to the barman for another drink. The man regarded him uneasily as he made his way down the bar. Something was clearly troubling him, but he seemed unable to put his finger on what. Gamp smirked at the pathetic muggle. It was like watching a rodent struggle to comprehend a maze.
“I hate to turn away business, mate, but you’ve had three of those already and it isn’t even noon. Can I get you some coffee, instead?”
Underneath the bar, Gamp drew his wand. Confundo. The barman’s eyes glazed over and his jaw went slack. Gamp pointed his wand at the tab laying next to the register and the slip of paper disappeared in a puff of white smoke. “You’ve never seen me before,” he hissed. “Now take my order.”
A few seconds later, the barman shook his head and gave Gamp a surprised look, as though he hadn’t noticed him sitting there. “Good morning, sir. Welcome to The Kings Arms. What can I get for you?”
“I’ll have a vodka and...” Gamp began, then he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. “No, make that a double scotch, neat.”
Across the street, a man wearing ill-fitting muggle clothes covered by a distinctive, long cloak had appeared in front of the boarding house. He looked nervously around before slipping into the building.
“A bit early for something that strong, my friend,” the bartender replied cautiously. “What’s the occasion?”
Stupefy. Gamp sent the barkeep flying into the wall of bottles behind the bar, enjoying the crash of shattering glass. No more need to be subtle. He wouldn’t be in this dumpy little town for much longer. He summoned an unbroken bottle of whiskey from behind the bar and slipped it into the pocket of his overcoat, then made his way across the street.
Goyle had noticed the man as well, and he was leaving the muggle cafe where he’d been sitting. He wiped his mouth and brushed crumbs from the front of his coat as he walked. Gamp sneered as he watched the fat fool head for the back of the rooming house. He was nothing without somebody to tell him what to do. Sooner or later, he’d become more of a liability than an asset, just as he had been in school. Until then, Gamp hoped that he could at least prevent the man from sneaking out the back.
Once he reached the door, Gamp quietly entered the building. A large staircase led to the second floor units, and he carefully made his way up. The muggle boarder they’d placed under the Imperius curse had told them that the fugitive guard was living in flat 2D. Gamp pointed his wand at the doorknob and unlocked it. He turned the knob very slowly and eased the door open. Peering inside, he saw no signs of life in the small sitting room. He crept in, listening carefully.
A flicker of a shadow in the small kitchenette caught his eye. He aimed his wand and inched his way towards it. He heard a man’s voice humming softly, followed by a metallic popping sound. His body tensed in spite of the alcohol coursing through his veins. Next came a soft scraping sound, followed by the padding of stocking feet on cheap linoleum.
The guard rounded the corner and came face to face with Gamp, leering at him cruelly. He dropped the plate of toast and jam and fell to his side, desperately reaching for his wand. But Gamp already had him dead to rights. “Petrificus Totalus.” The guard hit the floor like a sack.
Gamp quickly set about casting silencing charms on the room as the man struggled against his invisible binds. Moments later, Goyle entered the room and locked the door behind him.
Gamp released his hold on the guard’s head, and the man immediately began to plead with them. “Are you two Aurors or something? I haven’t done anything wrong, I swear it!”
“Who said anything about Aurors?” Gamp demanded. “Have you been talking to the Aurors? What have you told them?”
“I haven’t talked to any Aurors,” the guard answered. “I’m just an ordinary wizard, trying to live in peace.”
“Liar!” Gamp thundered. “What have you told them about the prison break?”
Realization dawned on the guard’s face, along with a glimmer of hope. “I know you. You’re two of the lot that snuck out of Azkaban. It’s me, Fishwick. The lady in the cloak, she paid me to let you escape.”
“So you know who we are,” Gamp replied darkly. The look on the guard’s face changed from optimism to terror as Gamp aimed his wand.
“Crucio.” The guard’s screams filled the room as Gamp prodded and twisted his wand, applying the curse with fearsome intensity. Gamp’s face twisted into a cruel smile as the color drained completely from Goyle’s fat cheeks. Several seconds crawled by and finally Gamp relented. The guard writhed and moaned, trying to catch his breath.
“What have you told the Aurors?” Gamp demanded. “What do they know about our escape?”
“Nothing,” the guard whined pitifully. “I’ve spoken to no Aurors.”
Fresh screams filled the room as Gamp unleashed another round of agony on the guard. Goyle’s knees shook. Sweat poured down his face and he looked as though he might vomit at any moment. Finally, he grabbed Gamp’s arm, unable to stand it any longer.
“Gamp,” Goyle shouted, “he doesn’t know anything. He’s on the run just like us.”
Gamp turned slowly towards the fat wizard with a sinister look in his eyes. With one swift motion, he knocked Goyle onto his bottom. “Don’t ever interrupt me again,” he snarled, gesturing threateningly with his wand.
Turning back to the guard, he knelt so that he could look the man in the eyes. “I’m growing tired of asking, Fishwick, so this will be the last time. What have you told the Aurors?”
“Nothing!” the man cried. “I haven’t seen any Aurors. Please, have mercy!”
From his vantage point on the floor, Goyle couldn’t see Gamp’s face, but he was sure that the bastard was grinning from ear to ear. He bit his lip and stared at his shoes, trying to block out the screams.
Harry checked the address on the modest stone-clad house once more to be sure, then strolled up the path with Ron close behind. They were both dressed in muggle attire to blend into the neighborhood. Two children robe by on bicycles and Harry thought that they appeared to be around the same age as his youngest grandchildren. Whether on bikes or brooms, kids that age valued the measure of independence that came with having their own transportation.
He knocked on the door, waiting patiently for an answer. Shortly, a stocky man with greying hair opened the door.
“Constable Oakworth?” Harry asked.
“Yes,” the man replied. “Can I help you gentlemen?”
“I hope so,” Harry said. “I’m Detective Chief Inspector James and this is my colleague, Inspector Bilius. We’re from Scotland Yard. If you have a moment, we need to ask you some questions about a murder case you worked four years ago.”
Constable Oakworth inspected Harry’s credentials and seemed to find them convincing. “Please, come inside,” he offered, holding the door for them.
“I never reckoned I’d work on a case that you Scotland Yard boys would take an interest in,” Oakworth said as he showed them to his living room. “I pretty much just walk a beat and carry a nightstick.”
“That’s the thing about police work, isn’t it?” Ron replied. “You never know how big a case might turn out to be.”
The three of them took their seats. “Now, Constable,” Harry began, “do you recall investigating the murder of a woman named Ginevra Potter?”
“Oh, yes, definitely. Tough to forget that one. And please, call me Jarvis.”
“What were some of the things that made it so memorable, Jarvis?” Ron continued.
“Well, firstly that poor little girl that was found at the crime scene,” Oakworth answered. “I believe it was Mrs. Potter’s great niece, if my memory serves. She was crying something horrible, clutching a stuffed animal in one hand and this funny black stick in the other. Try as I might, I couldn’t convince her to let go of either one.”
Harry noticed Ron clenching his fists and staring at his shoes. “The other thing I’ll never forget was the way the killer was acting,” the Constable continued. “There was something way off about that bloke. He just stood there, like a statue, with nary an expression on his face. Creepy, I tell you. I can’t say that I was all that upset when I heard that they found him dead in his cell the next morning. Even the animals have a way of regulating themselves.”
Harry and Ron exchanged a meaningful look. “You were the first officer on the scene, correct?” Harry asked. Oakworth nodded. “And you also interviewed the eyewitnesses?”
“Well, there were no eyewitnesses, as such. Nobody actually saw the shooting. But there were several people who heard the shots and ran to see what was going on. I remember there was a lady who came from around the corner and a man who heard the shots from inside a store across the street. The names and statements are in my report, but I’m sure you’ve already seen that.”
“Actually, Jarvis, we haven’t,” Ron replied. “Your report seems to have gone missing from the records office. That’s why we wanted to talk to you.”
“Really?” Oakford asked, frowning. “I guess it’s those bloody computers. Ever since we went to digital records, I can’t find a thing when I need it.”
“What do you remember about the witness statements?” Harry pressed.
“Bloody hell, you’re really gonna tax my brain here,” Oakford replied with a wry smile. “Well, as I recall, both witnesses heard one shot and a pause followed by two more quick shots. The woman who came around the corner said that he was pointing the gun into the alley like he was going to fire again at, sweet heaven forbid, the little girl. Then she said his arm dropped to his side and he just stood there, pretty much like I found him. Maybe his conscience got the best of him, I don’t know. The bloke who came from across the street came up behind him and knocked the gun out of his hand, and he just stood there until I arrived on the scene. Neither witness ever heard him say a word.”
Harry wanted more than anything to stand, thank Jarvis Oakford for his time, and leave. But he couldn’t. He had to know. “Mrs. Potter,” he asked slowly, walling off his emotions and willing his breathing to stay slow and steady, “when you found her, was she...”
“Oh, yes,” Oakford replied somberly. “I believe she died the instant the second shot struck her. Poor dear never had a chance.”
Neither Auror was able to make eye contact for a long time. Harry wasn’t sure what Constable Oakford made of them and he honestly didn’t care.
“Jarvis,” Ron mumbled, “thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us. Is there anything else you remember from the scene or the witness statements?”
Oakford thought for a long moment, then replied, “Well, there was this mysterious third witness, but we never found out anything about her.”
Harry immediately snapped out of his funk. In all of the muggle and Auror case files, there was no mention of a third witness. “Please explain,” he asked.
“Well, the bloke who came from across the street told me that he bumped into a lady when he came out of the store. I mean, literally bumped into her. He said he didn’t notice her standing there until he almost knocked her down. I think he said that she had blond hair and she was wearing some sort of long, black coat with a hood on it. He didn’t pay her much mind because he was way more focused on the guy across the street who’d just committed a murder, you know?
“We never did locate her,” Oakford said, scratching his chin, “which was a shame because she might have seen the whole thing. Seeing as how the case was cut and dried and our shooter didn’t last twenty-four hours anyway, we never bothered to try to track her down.”
Harry rose from his seat. “Thank you so much, Jarvis. This is all very helpful. Let me give you my card, in case you think of anything else.” He reached into his coat pocket and flicked his wand, silently obliviating the constable. Ron helped the dazed man to his sofa and the two wizards quickly made their way out the front door.
As soon as they reached the sidewalk, Ron cast a muffliato charm. “So Stoops was confunded.”
“Or imperiused,” Harry replied grimly. “But this certainly wasn’t a random act. How do you figure the odds that this third witness is our mystery witch from Magical Records?”
“The descriptions don’t match exactly, but she could have been disguised in either place,” Ron reasoned. “Or both.”
“What was Octavia doing with Ginny’s wand?” Harry asked. It was an important detail as it answered one of the biggest questions that had plagued Harry ever since that terrible night. Ginny was a talented, powerful witch and a hardened war veteran. With her wand in hand, Harry had little doubt that she would have survived.
“I don’t know mate,” Ron replied softly, laying a reassuring hand on Harry’s shoulder. He could almost feel the pain radiating from his friend. “Seems like every answer we find leads to two more questions. Let’s get home and see ‘Mione. Maybe she can make sense of it all.”
Thank you for taking the time to read Conspiracy of Blood. If you could also take a minute to offer your thoughts below, I'd appreciate it.
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